Taking a stance for the first time on a Supreme Court appointment, the National Women's Law Center Tuesday denounced Judge Robert H. Bork as a judicial activist who finds no specific protections for women in the Constitution except their right to vote.
"At stake in Judge Bork's nomination . . . are women's role in the workplace, their access to educational opportunities, their health and reproductive rights (and) their status as citizens with full rights to equal treatment by our government," the center said in a 39-page analysis of Bork's judicial opinions, writings and statements.
The study by the nonprofit organization, which has been working to defend and advance women's legal rights since 1972, contrasted sharply with the White House contention that Bork is a judicial moderate with views similar to those of Justice Lewis F. Powell Jr., whom he would succeed.
The study, released one day after an equally critical assessment of the 60-year-old appellate judge's views by the AFL-CIO, underscored that the confirmation struggle will center on Bork's judicial record--both past and anticipated.
Although Bork has been bound by Supreme Court precedent while on the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia, as a justice "he would be free to implement his own philosophy and disregard that precedent," Suzanne E. Meeker, an attorney for the Washington-based center and co-author of the study, said at a press conference.
The study described Bork's positions as substantially less protective of women's rights than is the present Supreme Court, citing as an example the 1985 case of Vinson vs. Taylor, in which the high court ruled unanimously that sexual harassment on the job violated Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act.
When the case was before the District of Columbia appeals court, Bork, in a dissenting opinion, had said that the appeals court should grant a rehearing to the employer's appeal of the sexual discrimination suit. He questioned whether job-related sexual harassment should technically be considered a civil rights violation and called for stricter standards to prove that a worker did not voluntarily accept the sexual advances cited.
"Harassment is reprehensible, but Title VII was passed to outlaw discriminatory behavior and not simply behavior of which we strongly disapprove," Bork wrote in the dissent.
In its opinion, written by Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist, the high court rejected the imposition of more stringent standards as inappropriate.
The study cited other cases and statements that it said showed Bork is likely to oppose women's rights to abortion, contraceptives and affirmative action status.
When asked why the center had chosen to oppose Bork after remaining silent on President Reagan's Supreme Court nomination last year of Antonin Scalia, who was viewed as equally conservative, Marcia D. Greenberger, the center's managing attorney and a co-author of the study, said the group was aware that the new court vacancy was particularly crucial and it was impressed by the body of Bork statements on women's issues.
Because Powell was the swing vote between liberals and conservatives on the court, the Bork appointment "is a key nomination that can shift the balance of the court," she said.
" . . . We could not disagree more" with the White House view that Bork's opinions are "thoroughly in the mainstream" and that there is a "remarkable identity" between his views and those of Powell, she said.
Terry Eastland, director of public affairs for the Justice Department, took sharp issue with the study's depiction of Bork as an activist judge who was being misrepresented by the White House as a symbol of judicial restraint.
"He is by no means an activist," Eastland said. "Judge Bork is committed to judicial restraint and would not impose his own political values on the nation. He is not that kind of judge."